I know it’s your birthday today, you’d have been 71. We all miss you more that we can even express. I was going to come back to be there, wish you a happy birthday and work on making the world a better place. This is the note I’d leave there, if I could’ve been there. That we all love and miss you, you were the greatest Dad anyone ever could’ve had. You brightened the lives of everyone you ever met, made parts of Kansas City better for your presence, and will always be loved and missed.
This past September, long before I’d seen The Gnomist film (and quite a while after my bits of filming in it) and with the anniversary of my father’s death approaching (followed by what would’ve been his 70th birthday 20 days later), I distinctly didn’t want to be sad. I needed hip revision surgery, but that took two trips out of town to even get sorted out anyway, so I put on my brace and started walking the path again. Joyfully. I didn’t want to be sad, I wanted to live life as a celebration, celebrating a man who died too young, not letting myself get down about it. I wanted the joy of the Firefly Forest, the hope, the discoveries, the happiness, which I find without doors or houses already, but there was quite a bit more of it when there were doors and houses, as readers here well know!
My Dad died in 2003 of a brain stem glioblastoma, a very aggressive form of brain cancer, which took his life within 7 months of diagnosis. He died at home, at the top of the the ridge to the trail itself. My Dad never really acknowledged or allowed us to talk about the fact that he was dying, and it was very fast. Glioblastomas are merciless, brutal killers. One moment stood out to me. He had never read J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, but had fallen in love with the films. The first two, that is….the final installment was to come out that December…he would never get to see it, never get to learn the ending. One day, already paralyzed by the tumor, he asked me how the epic story ended, worried about his favorite characters, wondering what would happen, and wanted me to tell him everything. So I did. He smiled, he was content. That was the closest to saying goodbye we really ever did. A scene in the final film always brings tears to my eyes, as the character Gandalf describes death to the Hobbit Pippin in a beautiful way, “Death is just another path, one that we all must take….”.
This was a man who, without a diagnosis but with increasing double vision, joined a gym because he was starting to stumble on his morning jogs…he could hold onto a treadmill, you see. He had his glasses fitted so that he could still drive to work, he kept fighting right to the diagnosis, fought some more, then accepted his fate. Then, in the ultimate bravery, was able to face the news that the tumor would eventually cut off either his respiratory system or heart and he would die; he faced this without fear, and took care of us all, even from his hospice bed. All the age of 57, working for Hallmark in a state far from home for us.
Realizing that he would have turned 70 this September, I wanted to do something to memorialize him, give him a space, closest to where he left his mortal life. I took to the trail, and I suddenly knew what to do. I must add, I’d not seen The Gnomist at that point, I didn’t know if I’d ever see it with hip surgery looming, to me the magic had mainly just gone. I wanted to bring some of it back for everyone, for those who missed it, those who still needed hope, those who, like me, didn’t want to face the world with sadness, but with hope and laughter, like my Dad had. I wrote some messages on rocks that first day, one I later found in the purple door someone else had built, that read “The Magic Never Left!”, but I also took measurements at a tree Robyn had used briefly, but abandoned after the door was taken too many times. I turned, briefly, from The Watcher to the builder.
Across the street and down the hill from where my father passed away, this tree became a space for him….and for anyone. For everyone. I decorated it with harvest materials at first, waiting to add something else I had made for his door, waiting to add his initial. I wanted it to seem like just anything, wanted people (as more activity picked up in the woods of this type) to just think it was just another door, something to peek inside of, something I’d have to make it to, even on days my hip said no, to replace my little bottles with messages of hope, love, heal, smile and share.
I felt actually quite terrible when I posted it here, as I was posting new pieces of Forest Art as I found them, as I don’t post what I made–but I never meant to make anything! I just kind of….did. My head was in my hands, I had broken my code! I didn’t want recognition for it here, I didn’t want to blog anything I’d made just to fade into the background with the purple door someone else made, but as time wore on, I wanted to finally tell the story not of what I did, but of my Dad. Because no one else was going to. For all those who remember him, they remember him well. They love him still. He was a remarkable man, and deserves a memorial far surpassing my second rate door making skills, but this was, in that moment, what I was able to do, and I do hope it cheered some up on their bike rides, walks and runs, as they passed by, or even looked inside.
Right before surgery, I finally added the initials I had meant to from the beginning, on the door a “G” for George. On a little pot inside, I added one of Tolkien’s runes for the character Gandalf, also standing in for “G”. Then I added something else, a box I had made with a line from Tolkien’s poem concerning the character Aragorn, my Dad’s favorite character, painted onto it:
“Not all those who wander are lost”.
(“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.” )
I have friends and neighbors watching over my Dad’s door now, while I recover, but I posted this story in brief in a beloved Tolkien group I am in, and finally decided to add the story to this blog here. The Firefly Forest, my beloved Dad, a dash of Tolkien (the master of woodland magic!) and a tie we had together, the space closest to where he died….the woods where he ran….I wanted to make it happen, and please excuse me for telling the tale before going back to being The Watcher once more.
And please remember that that door has a story, too, as do all that others have put up, everyone and everything has a tale to be told. George’s Door. I’m no great carpenter, I broke a neighbor’s bandsaw just trying to make this. I have a bum leg for now, and am no artist as Robyn was, but I did what I could for my Dad. For George, for others to be able to see and ponder for a moment who the “G” stands for.
Finally, I just told the tale here. As The Watcher, I hope to bring many more of these stories out and post them here, this is just the only one (perhaps) I could tell myself.
And, I Still Miss You, Dad. I hope you got to see those white shores, and beyond, a far green country…..maybe I will someday see you there.
I’ve done my best to make it through the woods since re-injuring my hip, but I’m heading out for surgery and can no longer make it with both hips now down. I’ll be off my feet for a month for the first surgery. There are new additions out there, a few of them memorials for grieving families and all important to those who put them up. We have a dedicated team of Watchers, for whom I am constantly grateful!
Please send anything new or wondrous, whether in these woods or elsewhere, and I will try to post what I can from out of state!
Firefly Forest 2015 is a subtle reminder, so far, that the original was loved, appreciated and is dearly missed. But those subtle tributes keep popping up, along with not so subtle tributes such as the new doors on the former trees. No elaborate houses, fully decorated, or notes from one to another, but a dash of magic touches and tributes from fans of the original. I’m assuming, that is; if anything huge pops up tomorrow, I’ll be sure to include it! As of today:
I should say likely accidental, and as we all know now, the creator/s of the Firefly Forest are no longer in the area according to local media reports, but I can still occasionally make my way (still recovering from surgery) to some of my favorite spots on the trail. All that remains of the original doors is the Little Owl door, and it now has an amazing bit of fall beauty (if one counts fungal flowerings as lovely, and I do) right inside the door! Time passes, all things change. I miss the houses, the doors, and the creativity of the person/people who were responsible for them. I’ve also seen a few interesting additions from others, which I may add as I am able. But as the Little Owl door is a very special door indeed, I wanted to post the pictures of what is going on inside of it:
There are some lovely flowerings all over of this sort, some bright orange (or were, before the rains came), some white and like sand dollars. I have refrained from posting of the forest as this blog was dedicated to the Firefly Forest project itself, but I may add a bit more of just the trail as time goes by (and I’m able to adequately walk it again!). If you see anything along the way and snap a photo, please feel free to send it on over or post it in the comments!
And thanks again to the makers of this door, a most beautiful gesture and a beautiful project overall. I do hope that wherever you are now, you are bringing smiles to all around you, whether through fairy houses or what you do in your lives. You are gone, but never forgotten.
I hope the Overland Park Parks and Rec. Dept. doesn’t mind my borrowing their map, I wanted to add the exact location of the segment of Tomahawk Creek Trail that is home to the Firefly Forest. As I have noted previously (this post is now posted separately and able to be accessed from the home page menu), this trail is located between 137th and 138th streets west of Antioch, extending almost to Switzer and then west of Switzer extending behind the Deanna Rose Farmstead park. The segment on this map in red, surrounded by the black oval, encompasses the entire area of Firefly Forest:
I’m pretty sure this is a reference to those mentioned in the last post here. A very Firefly Forest response to the troublemakers.
There are a rather determined few individuals, or perhaps just one, who continue to vandalize these beautiful sites. Please be on the lookout for anyone who is damaging the sites, or any talk you may hear. The sign above was posted a few months back, and I’m reposting it here again.
The lovely tree with the red door has been vandalized yet again, the door ripped off and much of the surrounding decorations broken and stolen. This has been happening off and on since shortly after the homes and doors appeared, and is usually repaired quickly, but it is upsetting that anyone would want to damage these lovely creations that so many are taking such pleasure in walking to see. It’s especially upsetting as so many young children take such delight in visiting these sites in hopes of discovering the creatures who inhabit them, only to arrive and find them in such disarray.
Please keep a lookout, and call the appropriate authorities if you have any tips. As I am merely the Watcher and not affiliated with the trail itself or the Firefly Forest, I would suggest (until I get further information) using the contact numbers on the Overland Park Parks & Recreation site here.